It’s no secret that event marketers are a scrappy bunch, finding inspiration anywhere and everywhere they go. For some, the latest source of creativity comes from traveling franchise exhibitions for some of the world’s most popular entertainment franchises. From “Game of Thrones” to Harry Potter, there is no shortage of dynamic, entertainment-based expo experiences that tap into rabid fan bases. Following is a look at the experiential marketing lessons these vibrant showcases have to offer.
If you’re going to dedicate an entire exhibition to a beloved franchise, the biggest mistake you can make is slapping it together without providing all of the authentic details fans crave. That’s why the creators of Jurassic World: The Exhibition went the extra mile to recreate settings from the film franchise, offering footage of classic scenes and real props along the way. And, of course, the most important element of the experience, the replica dinosaurs, were as ultra-realistic as they come. A far cry from the jerky animatronics of yesteryear, the 40-foot-tall dinos featured rippling muscles, moving eyes and leathery skin that wrinkled as they moved. It’s the level of authenticity any fan would line up to experience.
One of the most successful franchise exhibitions to date, Harry Potter: The Exhibition has immersed millions of fans in the magic of its wizarding world. And a key part of its success can be attributed to its robust storytelling strategy. Case in point: As soon as fans enter the exhibit, the belching smoke from the Hogwarts Express steam locomotive and the movies’ theme music set the scene for the storyline and the experience ahead. There’s also a “sorting” engagement (“sorting” is an important moment in the books and movies), actors portraying key characters and an opportunity for fans to practice their Quidditch skills (a fictional sport from the story). “We took that storyline and created these moments where there is some human interaction, some fun and laughter, a little bit of scare and apprehension, followed by a celebratory climax, a story arc and journey that creates great memories for the guests,” says Eddie Newquist, chief creative officer at GES.
Another wildly successful expo, Hunger Games: The Exhibition keeps fans coming back for more thanks to thought provoking and educational engagements found throughout the experience. The story may be set in a fantastical, post-apocalyptic world, but creators of the exhibit found a way to tie the franchise into relevant, informative themes. In the District 12 section, for instance, the impoverished home that protagonist Katniss inhabits is on display alongside naturalist information on how to forage in a forest, as well as a reference to Greek mythology. Fans can also read an essay on media and war at the District 13 “propo” (propaganda) soundstage. These kinds of relevant and educational tie-ins not only create a more dynamic and enriching experience for fans, but offer attendees (like parents) who may not be well acquainted with the story a chance to engage and learn something new.
The diehard fans that often visit touring franchise exhibits know every last detail about their favorite movie, show or film. They know characters’ back-stories, they’ve watched every possible TV interview and they’ve re-read or re-watched the content countless times. But exhibition organizers can provide them with something they can’t get their hands on—exclusive access. Creators of Downton Abbey: The Exhibition took the approach by showcasing never-been-seen footage from the popular drama series. The content features an exclusive look at the show’s beloved characters, storylines and sets. It’s a surefire way to hook attendees the first time, then keep them coming back for more.
Franchise exhibitions can always be counted on to wow attendees with replica costumes, props and sets, but it’s often the opportunity to incorporate themselves into the story that keeps fans engaged. It’s a strategy that paved the way to success for the creators of Game of Thrones: The Touring Exhibition. The franchise exhibition offers fans a chance to engage in a green screen photo op that shows them riding a dragon and participate in an Oculus Rift VR experience that provides a 360-degree view of key locations in the series, such as Castle Black and the Wall. Attendees can even set up an online “companion” and pledge their loyalty to a House, then receive a message from a character on their smartphones. It’s just one more way to make fans feel like they have a stake in the experience.
There are plenty of brands that don’t have the resources to design live experiences at the scope of franchise exhibitions, but there are still powerful lessons to be learned from these showcases about engagement and fostering meaningful connections with consumers. So, the next time an expo rolls into town, why not pop in and get inspired?
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